To Hear and Be Heard

Audrey Zielenbach is the Artistic Assistant at Gulfshore Playhouse. 

Gulfshore Playhouse is a very busy place. On top of mounting six productions we are also running in-school residencies and after-school programs in our education department, planning and executing a variety of events such as our Gala, our Page to Stage Fundraisers, Synergy Series offerings as well as performing all of our day-to-day tasks. Underneath it all is one quietly ongoing project: selecting our New Works Festival finalists.

In case you didn’t know, our season unofficially begins in late September with the New Works Festival, a week-long event that culminates in staged readings of four never-produced plays. We bring in a flock of professional actors, directors, and of course, the playwrights, to workshop and then present their work to an audience.

Plays are meant to be seen and heard so readings are a vital part of the process; they give playwrights a venue to hear their work and to have their work be heard. It gives playwrights the opportunity to shape and develop their play with a team of incredibly intelligent professional actors and directors. What is presented at the staged reading will not be the final version of the play and may be completely different from what the playwright brought in at the start of the week.  The New Works Festival is a wonderfully collaborative and interactive process that helps foster up-and-coming playwrights who are shaping the modern theatrical canon.

The process of organizing the next New Works Festival begins almost as quickly as the previous Festival ends. Last season, the New Works Festival finished in late September and on November 1st, 2015, we opened submissions for 150 plays that would contend for one of the four finalist positions in the 2016 New Works Festival.

This year, we changed things up a bit. In previous years, our former Artistic Associate, the amazing Cody Nickell, would read through every submitted play and narrow them down to only a handful. But this year, we decided to rely on a group of spectacular volunteer readers. Each person was responsible for reading 22 plays between December of 2015 and June 1st of 2016 and return to us with feedback and recommendations. On top of that, this batch of plays was submitted blindly meaning our readers were given no information about the playwright whatsoever.  After all of those evaluations were completed, a group of “quarter-finalists” were selected based on a rating system. From there myself and Jeff Binder, our Artistic Associate, selected the semifinalists. And then it is up to the Producing Artistic Director, Kristen Coury, to work with us to select the final four. It is from this long list that we have managed to procure a number of phenomenal plays that are now being considered as semifinalists and four of those will go on to be featured in our Fourth Annual New Works Festival.

Assistant Stage Manager Emily Hauger, Joeniece Abbott-Pratt, Christopher Shin, and Playwright James Ijames (2)

Emily Hauger, Joeniece Abbott-Pratt, Christopher Shin, and Playwright James Ijames taking part in a rehearsal for the 3rd Annual New Works Festival.

We hope that you will join us for this truly unique experience. By attending the New Works Festival, you will have a chance to witness wonderful acting and actually hear from the playwright as well as provide them with your thoughts on their work.

These performances are very different from our regular season offerings because there is only a bare stage and actors with scripts in hand. There is minimal, simplistic movement. This style of performance truly highlights the words of the play. However, these are still performances of the highest caliber like you would expect from any one of the shows in our season. Following each performance is a talk-back with the playwright, the director, and the actors where you will have the opportunity to provide your feedback and ask questions. It isn’t often that we get to know the playwright of the plays we do so this is a rare opportunity that you should not miss!

If you are interested in attending, you can find more information on dates and tickets here.

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